After more than 100,000 downloads in two days from the website DEFCAD.org, the Obama administration is struggling to shut down distribution of "3-D" designs for a plastic gun called "The Liberator."
The plastic gun, designed by the Texas-based company Defense Distributed, looks somewhat similar to a grocery store bar code scanner and is theoretically capable of firing a bullet with deadly force. It requires 15 plastic parts printed on an industrial machine and one common metal nail.
The U.S. State Department's Office of Defense Trade Controls Compliance warned in a Wednesday letter published by Forbes that the design "should be removed from public access immediately" until the government determines if the product falls under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations - typically invoked to guard against U.S. companies sharing defense and space-related technology with foreigners.
"Defense Distributed may have released ITAR-controlled technical data without the required prior authorization from the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), a violation of the ITAR," said the letter.
Defense Distributed said in a Thursday tweet, "#DEFCAD has gone dark at the request of the Department of Defense Trade Controls. Take it up with the Secretary of State."
It's virtually impossible, however, to contain the spread of information on the Internet. The Pirate Bay, a famous file-sharing service founded in Sweden, is now the hub of distribution, the website TorrentFreak reports.
As of Friday morning instructions for the gun are being shared by at least 2,001 "seeders" via Pirate Bay.
The Pirate Bay "has for close to 10 years been operating without taking down one single torrent due to pressure from the outside. And it will never start doing that," a source within the organization told TorrentFreak.
Forbes reports that the file downloaded via DEFCAD.org was hosted by Mega, a service developed by Internet freedom activist Kim DotCom, whose MegaUpload file-sharing empire was shut down by the FBI in 2012. A defiant DotCom has been successfully fighting the legal case against him - and won an apology from New Zealand's prime minister - after a dramatic raid on his home by U.S. and New Zealand law enforcement last year.
Making one of the plastic guns requires a $8,000 Stratasys Dimension SST 3D printer, The Guardian reports.
The social media website Reddit has been a springboard for information about the gun, with the site's users upvoting en masse new developments. Gun control proponent Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the gun "stomach-churning" and proposed regulations to ban them on May 5, before the instructions were widely distributed online.
British 3-D printer Jonathan Rowley said in a Wednesday blog post that the gun could prove costly in more ways than one to users. Rowley reportedly refused requests from The Mail on Sunday and The Telegraph to print the gun, fearing that the weapon might actually kill users.
"There is currently a proliferation of 'home 3D Printers' coming on to the market," Rowley's company, Digits2Widget, said in a blog post. "The level of precision detail that they can achieve and the poor engineering quality of their own plastic materials would make it suicidal to attempt to print and fire the gun made from any of these machines."